Blogging Makes People Smarter

The great philosopher John Locke believed that knowledge is the relationship between two ideas. IDEA: The man is very large. IDEA: The man is looking at me angrily. KNOWLEDGE: I should get the hell out of here.

See how that works?

And so: Blogging is a shortcut to expertise on almost any topic because it allows writers to physically instantiate relationships between ideas. In other words: Writing links is the crux of blogging.

I want to convince you that it’s particularly writing on the internet that makes for a shortcut to expertise. The very nature of internet writing helps wire our brains up for a topic.

I can feel it when I work on covering a topic for a certain amount of time. I start and it feels daunting. I start writing things down that I learn as I go. At some point I feel well versed. It feels good.

Writing links to past writing is a service to readers and helps substantiate a writer’s authority. All that aside though, I think I can really feel my neurons making stronger connections when I reach for the memory of some past post (mine or someone else’s). Those connections are what make a network of relationships between related facts in a person’s mind.

And what else is expertise but that?

Casey Newton is a famous tech journalist at The Verge, but he’s a big proponent of blogging and bloggers. In fact, it’s not crazy to say that when he started being a lot more bloggy he found his path to real journalistic stardom. In this episode of the Longform Podcast he describes that transition from writing piece by piece to writing a newsletter that functioned more as a long scroll.

On the epside, he said something to the effect of: “Blogging is remembering.” That hit me so hard when he said that.

More than that, blogging is active and intentional remembering. I can’t help but think that’s very important to lubricate our path toward domain alacrity.

On top of that, just sitting there and writing down what you think about different knowledge as you take it in helps to cement it. I have stronger memories of all the little things I wrote about on here than I do about the thousands and thousands of other impressions I’ve experienced that I didn’t write about.

Social media makes us dumber

The internet made a noticeable shift away from blogging after Facebook and Twitter began their rise.

The worst part: People stopped writing nearly so many links.

People wrote a lot more about each other’s work and encouraged their readers to check out each other’s work before social media made us all so damn narcissistic.

In the early 2000’s, people would make these things called web rings. They were loosely affiliated sites that let you just bounce through them.

Later on that evolved into blogrolls. Most bloggers would post a little list of their favorite other sites at the edge of their page. People still do this. Sorta. Ish. Sometimes.

But I think the most powerful links were the ones directly in the text of posts, where a writer recommended a specific thing for a specific reason.

As social media ascended, internet users seemed to get a lot more guarded about linking to each other. Further, if someone did recommend something, they were much more likely to do it on social media, though that is so much more ephemeral. And social media sites are so much greedier about holding user’s attention.

In fact, it became so much harder to get attention that people seemed to devote more and more mental energy into packaging and promoting their own stuff than recommending others.

This makes us dumber.

I know that blogging is fine. There’s a lot of blogs out there. There are probably more blogs than ever, but I still think the quality of this connection-making has been diminished on the internet and I blame social media.

Some oldheads like Marginal Revolution still adhere ferociously to a linking ethic and bless them for it (case in point: top post as I write this), but we will all get smarter faster if we work hard to link each other.

I’ve been listening to this series of lectures from The Great Courses:

The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida Course No. 4790 Professor Lawrence Cahoone, College of the Holy Cross

Returning to the idea that opened this post, I first heard it when I was running and listening to Cahoone’s lecture on John Locke last week. I had to stop and make a voice note when he said that Locke argued that knowing is the relationship between two ideas.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not hard to convinced me to stop running, but still I really didn’t want to lose track of this concept.

Incidentally I was thinking about this post as I ran tonight and Cahoone ascribed a similar idea to David Hume, if that makes it more compelling for you.

Authorities aside, anyone who tries blogging about something they want to cement their expertise in for a while will feel it. Write out what you learned and what you think about it. Make the links. Remember the stuff you wrote in the past and remember the things you read or listened to while you were learning whatever it is you want to learn.

The act of intentionally making those linkages (the actual hyperlinks) will help you forge ties between those ideas and turn them into real knowledge.

Further, you’ll be goosing the galaxy brain with every link you write. And look around? We need this galaxy brain to start working correctly again very badly.

The galaxy brain as we know it is a hot mess. Put any two facts you like about it together and you’ll know that for sure.